The Graduate School wanted to then look at the collected data based on the respondents’ Colleges or Schools. Based on the response rates, we felt it was worth looking at trends we could see from the School of Business (5 respondents), the School of Engineering (4 respondents), the Neag School of Education (8 respondents), and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (41 respondents). Because the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences respondents made up the vast majority of our responses, we further disaggregated the data based on program area: Humanities (6 respondents), Social Sciences (17 respondents), and Science, Math, and Technology (18 respondents).
When responses were grouped by school, college, or program, they were rethemed to see if there were clear patterns based on the respondents’ academic training area.
When looking at the results by school, college, or program, some key commonalities emerged. Namely, respondents felt their department needed further funding and training to support BIPOC graduate students. Additionally they expressed a lack of community and mentoring for BIPOC graduate faculty, staff, and students.
Respondents generally identified a lack of sufficient funding and training to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for their BIPOC graduate students. The survey responses indicated that they wanted more funding to offer better financial support to BIPOC students, to support initiatives that improve the department environment for BIPOC students, and to compensate BIPOC student- and faculty-led projects. The School of Business respondents highlighted that funding can be especially important for BIPOC individuals who are also international students, as they have limited access to employment due to their visa restrictions. Aside from desiring better funding, respondents requested further training to support their department’s BIPOC students. This desire for training ran across all responses, however the emphasis on training could vary. For example, School of Engineering respondents expressed a degree of discomfort or uncertainty when it came to identifying the needs of BIPOC students, suggesting we ask students themselves. Their responses also reflected a self-awareness of the need for further training to build their capacity to support BIPOC students.
The respondents to the survey also emphasized that the BIPOC graduate students at UConn lack access to a robust community and to mentors. Many respondents noted that their department did not have many BIPOC graduate students. One respondent even expressed a desire to hear about the BIPOC student experience in their program, but they had only one BIPOC student in their program.
A Comment on Lack of BIPOC Community:
“The preceding questions are difficult to answer given that there has been one BIPOC graduate student in our department since I arrived. It would be very useful to get their input, but this is nearly impossible given that it would be obvious where it was coming from, which would make the student less likely to be forthcoming. So we have an issue that the most useful information would be from students that are unlikely to provide it. Perhaps the graduate school could institute exit interviews to gauge student experiences during their time at UCONN (for all backgrounds).”
With our BIPOC students often being one of a few (or in the aforementioned case, the only) BIPOC students in their graduate program, they lack access to a sense of community in their department or on campus. Furthermore, the leadership, staff, and faculty are predominantly white. The lack of BIPOC representation not only hinders the development of a strong BIPOC graduate community but also means that BIPOC students seeking BIPOC mentors often do not have access to them. BIPOC faculty and staff often are overburdened taking on additional mentorship responsibilities for students while not being compensated for that work or being rewarded for that work in the Promotion and Tenure Review process. Looking beyond campus, UConn BIPOC students have different experiences looking to the surrounding area for BIPOC community. The local Storrs area at the main campus is predominantly white and rural; the Hartford and Stamford communities surrounding those campuses include more Black and Brown community members, resources, and businesses.
Although the responses across colleges and schools shared many commonalities, there were also many instances where they diverged. Respondents grouped by academic discipline had different levels of awareness of resources for BIPOC students as well as different levels of development and orientations in regards to anti-racism. The social sciences, humanities, and the Neag School of Education respondents were generally more informed of the resources available for BIPOC students experiencing racism with the social sciences grouping being the most aware. Respondents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) were least aware of resources. Engineering respondents were most unaware of resources as a grouping.
We continued to see this divergence in responses between the social sciences, humanities, and education and STEM in their familiarity with issues of racism, racial disparity, and systemic injustice. For example, STEM responses more often emphasized support programming and events whereas responses from the social sciences emphasized addressing biased expectations and the curriculum. While all are important aspects of creating a better climate for BIPOC graduate students at UConn, the social sciences answers reflected more self-awareness and systems awareness of how racism affects BIPOC students in higher education. The trends of racial awareness aligned with what we might expect of faculty and staff based upon their academic training. Education scholars often had the most critical and anti-racism informed responses as they were trained in analyzing educational systems. STEM scholars often have not had to analyze educational systems or racism as part of their educational training.
As we pulled together narratives and themes, we also found some outliers or counter-narratives to the larger trends we found in the results. The first counter-narrative we noticed was a denial of racism as a problem at UConn. While looking at our Science, Technology, and Math (STM) grouping, the majority of the responses did display an understanding that UConn is not immune from systemic racism and inequity; however, there was a small group of responses that did not believe in anti-racism and advocated for a race neutral approach to supporting all students. These respondents generally did not agree with any of the Likert questions and critiqued the survey for its basis in Critical Race Theory.
A Comment from a STM Respondent:
“It is important to maintain an open intellectual climate, and ensure that discussions are not dictated by the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT). All acts of racial and sex discrimination should be addressed, and the university does have offices that address such issues. Beyond that students and all employees should be respected as individual human beings, not through the lens of labels such as ‘BIPOC’. I find these labels offensive, and I know that many others of international background also find them offensive. However, it is almost impossible to speak out on such matters in the current climate. This survey is too informed by the language of CRT.”
We share this example not to shame faculty and staff in STEM; rather, we share this example as it highlights the reality that our graduate faculty and staff, much like our students, have very different orientations towards anti-racism and different approaches to supporting marginalized students. These differences in training, development, and orientation mean that all students, but especially BIPOC students, are receiving different support depending on the faculty or staff member with whom they work.
We similarly found a counter-narrative when analyzing the results from the Neag School of Education. The respondents from the Neag School of Education, on the whole, were the most critical and skeptical grouping. Due to their training and knowledge, our Neag respondents had lots of recommendations and thoughts on BIPOC graduate student support. However, we also found that some respondents did not trust UConn to appropriately react to racism and support BIPOC students. This counter-narrative contrasts with the previous, emphasizing how unique and inconsistent BIPOC graduate student support can look at UConn.
Example of a Skeptical Response:
“Nothing at UConn- I would suggest they reach out to the media, as well as the NAACP and the ACLU. I dno’t trust UConn to make real change or support a student in this situation in a meaningful way that has long term and systemic implications.”
While we cannot definitively draw conclusions from our survey results since they are not a representative sample, these results align with larger trends and research on the climate of STEM departments for BIPOC students across higher education institutions. The results also highlight that BIPOC graduate students at UConn can have very different experiences due to a variety of factors including their chosen field of study.